Whiplash injuries can be sustained in any type of auto accident, even those occurring at speeds of 5 mph or less where there is no visible vehicle damage. The Spine Research Institute of San Diego estimated there will be roughly 3 million new whiplash injuries per year. The risk for injury rises in those with previous neck or low back injuries, females (typically due to smaller neck size), a head restraint that is too low, and being unaware of the impending collision.
Whiplash and other car crash injuries explained
During a crash, the tissues of the spine are very rapidly loaded and the discs, ligaments and muscles are at risk of being torn. The ability of a tissue to stretch is dependent on the rate that you load it. For example, visualize a piece of silly putty. If you stretch the putty slowly, it expands into a long string. Stretch it quickly, however, and it will rip in two. The tissues of the body, like the silly putty, have viscoelasticity; meaning the risk of strain is rate-dependent. The time it takes for the tissues to be loaded during a crash may be milliseconds.
Common symptoms following an Auto Accident:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Shoulder and upper back pain
- Low back pain and sciatica
- Pain or tingling in the extremities
- Jaw pain
- Trouble sleeping
Pain after a crash may come on immediately or a few days or even weeks or months after. There have been many studies showing the occurrence of long-term effects from whiplash injuries.
If you have been injured in a car crash, it is important to seek care right away, especially if you will be seeking legal representation.
What happens during a car accident?
In a rear impact collision, the vehicle being struck begins to move forward upon impact. The occupants’ inertia will try to resist this motion causing a compressive force to travel up the spine. As this force travels to the neck the weight of the head, following the forward momentum of the torso, now causes the upper vertebrae to flex and the lower vertebrae to extend, resulting in an s-shaped curve. This causes a significant amount of tension and shear forces through the joints and tissues and occurs before the head even hits the head restraint. These effects are even more pronounced if the vehicle’s head restraint is not high enough to properly support the head.